At their first meeting of the new year, when most observers were hoping for signs of civility and conciliation, the Costa Mesa City Council demonstrated what happens when there’s a shortage of leadership on the dais.
Mayor Sandy Genis — who participated in the defrocking of former Mayor Katrina Foley several weeks ago without explanation and got herself elected as mayor to replace her — showed us all that, despite having served on the council a couple times over three decades with distinction, and being a very smart and well-educated woman, she seems not to have developed the skills to take charge of a meeting and keep it on course — something that was never a problem when Foley was at the helm.
Jan. 2 was a frustrating meeting to watch. It began when Councilman Jim Righeimer told us all that he wanted to keep things “moving” during the meeting, so he wouldn’t be talking as much. Well, that lasted 20 minutes, at which time he returned to his old rude ways: speaking out of turn and interrupting others, Foley, mainly, as they tried to make a point during the discussions.
The worst part of the evening was when, very late, Foley asked for New Business item No. 2, consideration of naming the new Community Center (the old Donald Dungan Branch Library building that will be re-purposed as part of the $35 million Lions Park Project) for former Mayor Norma Hertzog, be jumped ahead of No. 1.
No problem with that, but the discussion that followed was strange and, quite honestly, embarrassing. Basically, after praising Hertzog at great lengths, adding their comments to the chorus of complimentary speakers who included former mayors Mary Hornbuckle and Peter Buffa, the majority of Genis, Righeimer and Allan Mansoor rejected Foley’s request to name the existing round building at Lions Park for Hertzog.
Adding insult and further embarrassment to injury, that same majority directed the staff to receive and file the report and return at some future date with an actual potential policy about naming city buildings without providing any kind of direction about what they were seeking.
Then, in a bizarre fit of pique shortly after midnight, Righeimer demanded that the remaining New Business items — No. 1, providing direction to the staff regarding the preparation of a detailed staff report regarding the position of the city attorney, and No. 2, consideration of the adoption of a resolution supporting local authority to certify and regulate residential recovery facilities (sober living homes), be shoved off until the next meeting. He cited his weariness and the length of the meeting as reasons. At one point he actually told Foley he was tired of hearing her talk.
Amusingly, Foley reminded him the meeting would have been shorter if he’d not talked so much. So, you get the idea, throughout the evening, as discussions on every issue bounced off the walls, it was clear the meeting lacked leadership. The residents (and voters) of Costa Mesa, and the folks who present themselves before the council to do business, have every right to expect better behavior from their elected leaders.
It's going to be a very long 11 months until the next election, when things will change dramatically on the dais due to district-based voting and a directly elected mayor. Until then, I guess we can anticipate the same kind of shameful show every couple weeks.
GEOFF WEST lives in Costa Mesa.